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Maine gearing up for gay marriage referendum in November

State extended marriage to same-sex couples in May, but religious groups seek to overturn that law

As same-sex marriage advocates across the United States continue to work to overturn California’s Proposition 8, Maine has emerged as the next marriage battleground.

Opponents of gay marriage successfully collected more than 60,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot this November that would overturn a law Gov John Baldacci signed in May that extended marriage to same-sex couples. The legislation has yet to take effect, but the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family’s Maine chapter and the Diocese of Portland remain the primary financiers of the pro-referendum Stand for Marriage Maine coalition.

The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force are among the local, regional and national organizations that continue to raise money and provide staff and additional resources to No On 1/Protect Maine Equality.

Organizer Mark Sullivan conceded to The Guide magazine in a previous interview he felt the campaign to secure marriage for gays and lesbians in Maine had not garnered as much attention outside of New England as he would have liked. However, in a follow-up interview with Xtra.ca, he says the national movement continues to respond.

“We’re very pleased at the level of support we’ve received from marriage equality supporters around the country,” says Sullivan.

The Task Force recently donated $75,000 to Protect Maine Equality, while the Human Rights Campaign and other leading US queer advocacy organizations continue to urge their members to take so-called “volunteer vacations to Maine” ahead of the Nov 3 vote. The Equality Federation, a collective of statewide queer organizations from around the US, has enlisted 500 people to phone bank Maine voters on Sep 27.

In addition to these efforts, Equality Maine, GLAD and MCLU-funded advertisements continue to airacross the state.

“We’ve got great support from our partners at the national level and the state level,” says Sullivan.

The stakes in Maine remain high for local activists and for the broader movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights. A poll conducted by the blog Daily Kos and Research 2000 between Sep 14-16 found 48 percent of respondents support the referendum; compared to 46 percent who oppose it.

Maine voters defeated a measure in 2005 that would have repealed the state’s anti-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity or expression. Activists are quick to point out Maine could become the first state to uphold marriage for same-sex couples at the ballot box.

“People around the country realize how important Maine is,” says GLAD spokesperson Carisa Cunningham . “It will be important for California. It will be important for everybody that we win for the first time on the ballot on marriage.”

Gays and lesbians in neighboring New Hampshire can begin to marry on Jan 1. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont allow same-sex couples to marry. New Jersey and New York lawmakers are expected to debate the issue in the coming months, but Dan Hawes, director of the Task Force’s Academy for Leadership and Action, stresses he feels Maine remains an important battleground.

“Every time we face one of these votes in the state, it has a ripple effect nationally,” he says.

Sullivan says voters would send the message “Maine people believe in fairness” if they defeat the referendum. He adds that its failure would resonate far beyond Maine.

“It sends a message we can win a referendum situation,” says Sullivan. “Perhaps there will be some momentum behind the phrase “as goes Maine, so goes the country.””

Visit Mainefreedomtomarry.com for more information.